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Boston a big test for self-driving cars

John Leonard still remembers his first brushes with Boston’s traffic.

The year was 1991, and he had just arrived from Philadelphia, via Oxford, for postdoctoral study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Where Leonard came from, drivers exhibited their brotherly love by letting others merge and by signaling when they turned. The roads were not under construction by default, and traffic lanes were generally clearly marked.

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Then he tried to find his way from the Longfellow Bridge to Storrow Drive.

“It took me about six months to figure out which was the right lane,” Leonard recalled.

Now a professor of robotics at MIT, Leonard has something of a professional interest in how driving in Boston might be negotiated by a robot — say, for example, the self-driving car under development by Google — when a smart guy like him had trouble figuring it out. Last week, he even had the chance to take a ride in Google’s car when he went to San Francisco for a conference on automated vehicles.

“I expected to be impressed, because the people involved are so good,” he said. Although the car he was in encountered many cyclists and pedestrians, Leonard said the ride was as smooth as one with a professional human driver, with the car staying in its lane and negotiating minor road construction.

“I had total confidence in the car,” he said.

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But Leonard said it could be a while before the vehicle ventures onto the treacherous streets of Boston. He said the cars need to be tested under a number of different and difficult driving conditions, so that Google’s technology can prove itself in the absence of highly precise maps, like the kind it uses to get around Mountain View, Calif., and common driver aids like lane markers, road signs, and uniform intersections.

“Robots should just be able to navigate the way we navigate,” said Leonard, who has designed ocean-going and land-bound robots. “That’s been a challenge in robotics for 40 years.”

Like many other scientists, Leonard was excited about the prospect of a driverless car even before Google launched its effort in 2009. But Leonard is so curious about the technology that last year he filmed numerous expeditions from behind the wheel to document the obstacles Google faces, especially in a place as notoriously difficult to drive in as Boston.

How, for example, would the car know where to go when heavy snow obscures road markers, signs, and even parked cars? What to make of the erratic hand gestures from a police officer directing traffic around road construction? And maybe most important, what to do about that car in the next lane over, which is about to pull the kind of stunt that drives people to take public transit?

“Dealing with the unexpected is a challenge,” Leonard said. “Boston drivers seem to do the unexpected more than other drivers.”

Unlike those with a human driver, Google cars do not rely on sight and sound. Instead, a number of technologies are used to get the car from point A to point B without hitting anything — or anyone. One wheel has an embedded sensor that precisely locates the car’s position, and the car has radar and a roof-mounted laser mapping device, which detect nearby objects such as cars, guardrails, curbs, lane markers, pedestrians, and cyclists. A video camera reads traffic lights and helps recognize obstacles.

A robust software program digests all this data and moves the car accordingly.

Google engineers say their car is designed to be a defensive driver, so it brakes when cyclists cut in front of it or jaywalkers dash across the street. It is even programmed to replicate many of the unwritten rules of road conduct, such as inching forward at stop signs the way human drivers do.

These technologies have their limits, though, especially under the varied road conditions common across the United States. Many streets have faded or obscured lane markings, for example, which could confuse a self-driving car. And although the laser mapping is highly accurate, the device has a shorter range than radar, and it has trouble in tough weather, such as heavy rain or fog.

The technology’s biggest challenge could be the humans around it.

Leonard demonstrated during a drive around downtown Boston last month, issuing rapid-fire commentary about how a computer might interpret the actions of the cars around us.

“You have one car going left, you have another car going left, this car — ” Leonard said, pointing to a car rolling along in the parking lane to our right at about 10 miles per hour — “are they stopping, are they not? That’s a challenge, for a robot to be decisive.”

Leonard knows the consequences of robot indecisiveness firsthand. In 2007, he was a member of a team from MIT competing at the DARPA Urban Challenge, a road race involving robotic cars that served as a recruiting ground for Google’s self-driving car project. At the event, the car from a team at Cornell University stopped in the middle of a turn, only to accelerate when the MIT car tried to pass on its left. The resulting collision was one of the first robot-on-robot fender benders in history.

Then there are the driving situations that seem particular to Boston.

In his tour around town, Leonard steered his car off Storrow Drive and encountered one of those everyday interruptions that most veteran drivers would confidently steer around: a truck idled in one lane, with a worker picking up orange cones scattered across the lane and a police officer redirecting traffic with an indistinct flopping-arm motion.

That is one area where Google’s engineers have acknowledged their self-driving car could not cope. Although the car understands that a cyclist who extends his arm is about to turn, ambiguous movements like hand gestures from traffic cops are still difficult for the car to comprehend, Google engineers have said in published accounts.

Indeed, a Google spokesman said that urban driving is more hazardous than highway driving, owing to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians and the higher incidence of erratic behavior and circumstances in which a human driver would make decisions on the fly.

Leonard is quick to note that driverless cars have made huge progress in just a few years and is excited for the future of Google’s project, especially because the company has assembled some of leading scientists from the fields of robotics, machine learning, and engineering.

He is just trying to be realistic about how soon the self-driving car takes its place on American roads.

“They do call this a moon shot for a reason,” Leonard said. “It’s really hard to put a timeline on it.”

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Child endangerment charges filed after children left in hot cars


The Finney County Attorney’s office has filed charges against two people for leaving a baby in a car alone.

Child endangerment charges were filed against Geronimo Gonzales, 24, and Deidre Lopez, 21, on Tuesday.

Garden City police say the two left their five-month-old baby in the car at a local Dillon’s store. Employees had to remove the child from the car.

The child was taken to the hospital and determined to be okay.

On Monday, Garden City Police arrested Margaritha Wiebe-Peters, 21, after officers were called to a similar incident at a Walgreen’s store. Formal child endangerment charges have also been filed.


Garden City Police reported two separate incidents involving young children left in cars within two days.

According to police, the first case happened at 11:48 a.m. Sunday at Dillons West on 1211 W Jones. Police said officers arrived to find that Dillons employees had removed a 5 1/2 month old boy from a vehicle in the parking lot. Employees told police they believed the child was in the car for approximately 15 minutes with the windows rolled down. Employees said they heard the child crying. Police said the temperature outside was approximately 90 degrees.

Police said they found family members of the child inside the store and the initial investigation shows the family forgot the child in the vehicle. Police said there was some confusion because the family’s other children were left at a grandmother’s house. Finney County EMS and St. Catherine’s Hospital medical staff checked the child and did not find any injuries or illness. Police said the Department of Children and Family received a report and the child went back to the parents. Police will not release names at this time as the incident is still under investigation.

Captain Randy Ralson said there has not yet been an arrest in this case because more investigating is necessary. He said officers are asking more questions and will hopefully have more investigation done by Tuesday morning.

Sheila Lowry, Dillons spokeswoman, said the company is thankful for the employees’ quick action.

“They got the child out and alerted authorities,” Lowry said.

On Monday, Garden City Police said around 11:25 a.m., officers responded to Walgreens on 1308 E Kansas after a report of a one-year-old child left unattended in a vehicle. Officers said the child was locked inside and the car wasn’t running. Officers said as they were trying to get the child out, the parent came out of the store and approached officers.

Police said the investigation revealed the parent left the child in the vehicle with the auto start running and the air conditioner on. The parent said she was unaware the auto start only ran for 10 minutes before shutting off. Police said the investigation showed the child was in the car for approximately 15 minutes before officers showed up. Police said the temperature outside was 88 degrees.

Garden City Police arrested 26-year-old Margaritha Weibe-Peters of Sublette and police lodged her in Finney County Jail for allegations of Endangering a Child. Police said the one-year-old went into protective custody and later released to family.

Safe Kids Wichita Area Coordinator Ronda Lusk said so far in 2014, Kansas hasn’t had any deaths from kids left in hot cars. She said the United States has had 17 deaths so far in 2014, with four of those still pending investigation. She said it only takes minutes for cars to heat up to the point of harming children. She said kids cannot regulate their body temperature as well as adults and their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults. She said in 10 minutes, a car can increase up to 19 degrees in temperature.

Lusk recommends parents take steps to ensure leaving a child in a hot car doesn’t happen to them. She said they can leave something in the backseat that’s necessary for their destination, like a purse. She said parents can also set reminders in their phones and teach children that vehicles are not places to play. She said often times, when people break their normal routine is when they are more likely to forget a child.

Lusk said one thing Safe Kids promotes heavily is acting quickly. She said if you see a child in a car alone, you should call 911 immediately and not wait for a parent or guardian to return to the car.

She said even if the windows are down, the car will still heat up quickly and kids are not safe inside.

Safety Tips from

  • Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
  • Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit. We call this the “Look Before You Lock” campaign.
  • Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., on the floor board in the back seat.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that anytime the stuffed animal is up front you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
  • Make arrangements with your childcare provider that if your child does not show up as scheduled, they will contact you immediately to ensure your child is safe.  In turn, you will agree to always call the childcare provider if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
  • Ensure children do not have access to an unattended vehicle.  Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages. Ask home visitors, child care providers and neighbors to do the same.
  • Keep car keys and remote openers out of reach of children.
  • If a child goes missing, immediately check the inside and trunks of all vehicles in the area very carefully, even if they are locked, a child may lock the doors after entering a vehicle on their own.
  • Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.

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Hot car deaths: The children left behind

Toddlers who have died from heatstroke in cars

Every few days in the US, there are local media reports about young children dying from heatstroke, or being rescued, after being left to bake in parked cars. Why does it happen so often?

With the click of an opening car door, at 15:15 on a warm Florida spring day, Reggie McKinnon’s world suddenly collapsed.

“I heard someone screaming,” he says. “Then I realised the screaming was coming from me. The rest is just a total blur.”

For three hours, his 17-month-old daughter Payton had been left in his Ford Explorer, where she died of heatstroke as the temperature steadily rose far above the 24C (75F) temperature outside.

McKinnon had earlier taken her to a doctor for an ear examination and then driven back to work, forgetting to drop her off at nursery.

Since her death in March 2010, nearly 150 children have died across the US, 17 this year. Several parents face criminal charges of neglect or, in the high-profile case of a father in Georgia, a murder charge.

What makes the case of that man, Justin Harris, so unusual is that he is accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son, Cooper, in the back seat to die, a charge he denies.

Justin HarrisIn Georgia, Justin Ross Harris is accused of deliberately leaving his son in the car

Flowers cover the grave of Cooper Harris in Tuscaloosa, AlabamaCooper Harris is buried in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Despite the publicity of cases like the one involving baby Cooper, the number of tragedies has remained on average at about 38 deaths a year for the past decade, says Jan Null, a consulting meteorologist who records such cases.

He believes his figures, which are based on local media reports, mask the true scale because he gets calls from bereaved relatives whose loved ones never made the news.

If more parents realised that the interior of a parked car can heat up 10C in just 10 minutes, there would be fewer tragedies, says campaign group Safe Kids Worldwide.

When the human body reaches temperatures above 40C (104F) the organs are at risk, but children are vulnerable because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s.

Car death victims are usually under two but have been as old as five, and deaths have occurred in outside temperatures as low as 23C (73F). Every state in the US has a sad story to tell, although last year Texas and Florida accounted for a quarter of all of the deaths.


How laws differ around US

Most states deal with hot car incidents through neglect laws, but 19 states address it directly, including:

  • A 15-minute limit on leaving a young child in a car in Florida
  • A traffic violation in California for leaving a young child, six or below, alone in unsafe conditions
  • Leaving a child under seven alone when unsafe to do so or engine is running is a crime in Tennessee and Nevada


There have been high-profile cases in other parts of the world too, notably in Australia and in Israel, where three deaths last summer made headlines.

The numbers in northern Europe appear to be proportionally lower than in the US, but that’s hardly surprising given the cooler climate than the southern US states. Between 2007-2009, there were 26 cases of heatstroke in France and Belgium, including seven fatalities, according to Child Safety Europe. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents could recall no cases in the UK.

“I’ve seen numbers out of Europe and the total is not as high as in the US but there are not as many drivers or cars so it is very difficult to compare,” says Null.

Cases in the US began to rise in the late 1990s, as children’s car seats moved from the front to the back due to the dangers posed by airbags.

Air bag deaths and hot car deaths in US

“At the same time, car seat manufacturers were saying that rear-facing seats were safer so not only were the children in the back seat but also not even visible,” says Null, who believes the advent of mobile phones and more hectic lifestyles were also a factor.

Many readers may be incredulous that a parent could leave a child behind, saying some mistakes are inexcusable. The response to these kinds of cases is commonly vitriolic. But Kate Carr, the president of Safe Kids Worldwide, says there are three ways a child can find itself trapped.

The majority of cases happen unintentionally, she says, when the driver goes into autopilot.

“I’ve met many of these families. It can happen to anyone, it’s not a story of bad people – they are some of the most upstanding citizens you would think it won’t ever happen to.” Sometimes, she says, it’s just busy lives and the intrusion of technology in cars that distracts people.

The second way is children who get into cars on their own, and this accounts for about 30% of all cases, says Carr. And the third is when carers intentionally leave children in cars for what they think is a safe period of time, perhaps mistakenly thinking an open window will prevent tragedy.

There was condemnation and sympathy in equal measure for Shanesha Taylor, who last week avoided prosecution for leaving her two young sons alone in a hot car while she was at a job interview. They were rescued unharmed. She had argued she couldn’t find a babysitter and was desperate for work.

Shanesha TaylorGratitude is all I feel, said a relieved Shanesha Taylor

The deliberate cases often occur in public places and passers-by sometimes spot the danger and intervene. Last week, one man used a hammer to smash the window of a Jeep and rescue two small children in a Texas shopping centre car park.

A few days before that, a five-year-old was pulled to safety through a rear car window after being left for more than an hour in plus-32C (90F) temperatures in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

There have been attempts to make reminders for drivers – from a coloured band invented by a 12-year-old boy, to apps which give reminders. A petition has been presented to the White House urging the president to provide funding for more research into life-saving technologies.

“There’s not a technical solution that’s foolproof so we have to focus on behaviour – never leave a child in a car, keep the car keys away from kids and put reminders in the front or back seat,” says Carr.

Visual cues can be homemade, like a mobile phone, shoe, purse or briefcase placed in the back with the child.


Tips from a campaign group

  • Keep a teddy bear in the car seat when it’s empty, then when you put your child in the seat, move the animal to the front seat
  • Put a shoe or mobile phone in the seat with your child
  • Put the car seat on the passenger side of the back seat
  • Look in the front and back seats when you lock the car
  • Ask your partner to call to check you dropped your child off at nursery

Source: Kids Safe Worldwide


Asked whether a terrible mistake should be a crime, she says, “What greater punishment could you have than the knowledge that you’ve accidentally killed your child?”

After Payton’s death, McKinnon was arrested and charged with leaving a child unattended for longer than 15 minutes resulting in bodily harm.

Looking at five years behind bars, he made a plea deal and underwent probation and community service instead. He goes to parenting groups to tell them his story, keeping a promise to Payton that he would try to save other young lives.

Payton McKinnonPayton’s father Reggie thought she was at nursery but she was still in his car

The McKinnon familySince Payton’s death in 2010, McKinnon has had two more children

He has had two more children since Payton’s death and his wife Julia, a high school sweetheart, has remained supportive, he says.

“In over 65% of these cases the significant other leaves the relationship,” he says. “Most end in divorce. My wife knows I would never intentionally harm my children and she’s stood by my side from the moment of our horrible loss.”

Four years on, McKinnon, 42, is still haunted by what happened but believes people need to know because it could be them.

“People out there want to crucify me for what I did. I was one of those people before it happened to me.

“I would ask: ‘How could they forget their child? I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug addicts – not me.’”

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Laser Eyes Pose Price Hurdle for Driverless Cars

Google Inc., BMW AG and other car makers are running demonstrations of their driverless technologies. But before such vehicles are commonly found on the road, experts say the size and cost of the laser-powered sensors that acts as the cars’ eyes will have to shrink.

Today, an advanced lidar (for light detection and ranging) system for self-driving cars costs between $30,000 and $85,000 apiece, manufacturers said, and some prototypes…

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Two rescues from hot cars in two days – KSN

GARDEN CITY, Kansas - Within two days, children were put at risk in two different parking lots in Garden City.

Walgreens employees said a mother was taken away by police Monday afternoon after she left a small child in the car. The condition of the child is unknown at this time.

On Sunday, there was a similar situation.  A six month old was found left alone in a Dillon’s parking lot by a store employee after it had been alone for half an hour.  The baby was ok and was returned to its parents.  Police did not press charges.

Now an online petition has started, asking the City Attorney to take action, saying the parents should be punished for putting their child in danger.

Temperatures inside of a parked car can turn deadly in just ten minutes, and a cracked window doesn’t cool down a car by much.

Kids’ body temperatures rise much faster than adults’, and they die when it hits 107 degrees.

As for charges in the two cases, the Police Department and City Attorney were unavailable for comment.

The Garden City Police Department put out a Media Release Monday evening with more information.

For risks and tips on how to remember kids in the back seat, scroll down.

Tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

  • It takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to go up 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cracking a window open and parking in the shade aren’t sufficient safeguards.
  • A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s. A child dies with a 107 degree body temperature.
  • Even if it’s in the 60s outside, your car can still heat up to well above 110 degrees.
  • It only takes a 57-degree outside temperature to cause heatstroke.
  • On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly peaks in 10 minutes.

Extra tips to avoid accidental deaths in hot cars

  • Never leave children alone in a vehicle to run even a short errand. Use drive-thru windows at banks, dry cleaners and restaurants whenever possible. Use a debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.
  • Put a purse, cellphone or other item you will need in the back seat of your car. This will ensure that you check the back seat before leaving the vehicle.
  • Make a habit of opening the back door of your car and checking the back seat whenever you exit it.
  • Keep a stuffed animal or toy in your child’s unoccupied car seat. Put that item in the front seat when you place the child in the seat as a reminder that the child is in the back of the car.
  • If a child is missing, immediately check the car, including the trunk.
  • If you see a child alone in any vehicle for more than a few minutes, get the child out and call 911.

Child vehicular heat stoke summary
Heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles


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Venezuela’s Auto Industry in a Free Fall

VALENCIA, Venezuela—This car-crazed country’s auto industry, once the third largest in South America, is seizing up as manufacturers struggle to produce a few vehicles a day.

Car makers, including global giants like Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., have cut output by more than 80% in the first six months of the year compared with a year earlier because of a lack of dollars to…

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Leases Entice Drivers to Upgrade Cars as Often as IPhones

When Adam Gilgis leased a Volkswagen GTI this month, he had one goal: a low monthly payment.

“We pay $320, which is perfect,” said the 35-year-old Chicago attorney. “If we finance the car, we’re paying thousands of dollars more over the course of several years.”

Auto leasing is back in a big way as automakers including Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. (GM) pull back on discounts and rebates and entice Americans with ads promising cheap leases instead. So far this year, leases have accounted for about 27.7 percent of new-auto sales, according to, the highest rate in years. Buyers like Gilgis shun long-term loans associated with outright purchases because increasingly they see cars as smartphone-like gadgets to be upgraded every few years.

“Like an iPhone, one can get a new vehicle with all the new technology and have a similar payment as before,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for auto researcher

The recent surge in leasing is helping power U.S. auto sales, which are headed for the biggest year since 2007, when 16.15 million vehicles were sold. In June, five of the top six automakers beat analysts’ sales estimates. Lenders’ willingness to offer loans that stretch as long as eight years also is boosting sales. Terms of 73 to 84 months accounted for 24.9 percent of all sales in the first quarter, according to data from data services group Experian Automotive.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The recent surge in leasing is helping power U.S. auto sales, which are headed for the biggest year since 2007, when 16.15 million vehicles were sold. Close

The recent surge in leasing is helping power U.S. auto sales, which are headed for the… Read More


Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The recent surge in leasing is helping power U.S. auto sales, which are headed for the biggest year since 2007, when 16.15 million vehicles were sold.

Once Tacky

Leasing was once considered tacky and financially frivolous, letting posers drive cars they could ill afford.

“Thirty years ago, if you rolled up next to someone riding in a BMW or a Porsche and you said ‘that car is leased,’ it was one of the biggest insults you could throw at someone,” said Mark Wakefield, a managing director at AlixPartners LLP. “Now, you’d say, ‘Yeah? So, what?’”

Attitudes began changing in the late-1990s, when mainstream buyers began leasing family sedans from Honda Motor Co. (7267) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) Now, with the economy improving and the financial crisis receding in the rear-view mirror, leasing is gaining traction once again. Automakers and banks are piling in because they’re betting that a robust used-car market means leased vehicles will hold their value after they’re returned. The higher the “residual value,” the less the car depreciates during the lease and the less consumers pay per month.

Drivers often weigh the cost of leasing versus taking out a loan and buying a car. With a 20-percent down payment on a Toyota Camry SE priced at $23,740, a 60-month loan costs an average of $341 per month compared with $207 for a 36-month lease, according to a TrueCar analysis.

Kia Sorento

Non-luxury buyers are leasing at a pace not seen since the late 1990s. Advertising consultant Drew Ament and his wife leased a Kia (000270) Sorento for $450 a month for 36 months in February.

“It’s good for me knowing that the lease gives her peace of mind,” said Ament, who lives in Phoenix. “I’m a guy who will get a car and then drive it until it’s dead. I have a Chevy Silverado right now that I’ll probably have until it’s done. My wife can’t do that. So, I pretty much give her a budget each month, and if it’s under that budget, then go for it. And she gets the most for her money.”

He’d rather not have a monthly payment, but considers it worthwhile to ensure his wife and children have a new vehicle that’s safe to drive.

“It’ll be nice maybe a couple leases from now to not have to lease a three-row SUV once the kids move out,” Ament said.

Auto leasing is a hotly debated topic. Consumer Reports has long said buyers are better off paying cash for a new car or taking out a short-term loan.

Hidden Fees

While leasing offers lower monthly payments and repair costs than buying new or used, Edmunds warns on its website that leasing vehicles is more expensive over the long run than buying a car and keeping it. The research firm also says lease contracts can be hard to understand and include hidden fees, including maintenance and damage charges. Simply exceeding the lease’s mileage limits, typically 12,000 miles per year, can cost a driver thousands of dollars.

Leasing also “puts you on a treadmill to buy a new car over and over every few years with no end in sight,” said Anthony Giorgianni, an associate editor at Consumer Reports. “Leasing is just a bad way to purchase a new car unless you’re a really wealthy individual and you just don’t care about costs. Otherwise, it’s smoke and mirrors.”

Jessica Caswell, communications manager at VSP Vision Care in Sacramento, California, said that when she leased a new Honda Civic she didn’t realize insurers often charge higher premiums and fees for leased vehicles.

Significant Sum

“It’s a significant amount of money, and you don’t really know about it when you sign the lease,” Caswell said.

She said she may buy the car once the lease is up.

Kevin Tynan, a Bloomberg Industries auto analyst, calls leases “the new incentive.” The question, he said, is how long can U.S. automakers rely on them to fuel sales.

Tynan said that when millions of previously leased vehicles end up on used car lots at cheap prices, it might make less sense for consumers to buy or lease a new vehicle.

“I think we’re about 36 months out from a period where pre-owned makes more economic sense for the average buyer,” he said. “New vehicle demand could flatten for a period beginning in 2017-18 as we work through all these off-lease autos.”

Long-term loans also could crimp sales because people don’t buy new cars when they are paying off the one they own. To ensure that doesn’t happen, dealers will have to get creative with their come-ons, said Larry Dominique, the president of TrueCar Inc. (TRUE), an online auto-buying service.

“It’s a bit easier with lessees since they tend to be customers who like new cars every couple of years, so you’d hope they’d be back,” he said. “But how can you build loyalty with those who buy their cars so that they’ll come back seven, eight years later? It’s challenging.”

One way to build loyalty is through giveaways and promotions, including free car washes, Dominique said.

“I’ve even gotten an offer to attend a free wine and hors d’oeuvres tasting at a dealership,” he said. “It’s coming up with things like that to engage customers that’s important.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John Irwin in Southfield, Michigan at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at Robin Ajello

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In 20 Years, Most New Cars Won’t Have Steering Wheels or Pedals

Autonomous Cars (Autopia)


By 2030, most new cars will be made without rearview mirrors, horns, or emergency brakes. By 2035, they won’t have steering wheels or acceleration and brake pedals. They won’t need any of these things because they will be driving themselves.

That’s the takeaway from a new study by the Institute of Electronics and Engineers (IEEE). It’s based on a survey of more than 200 experts who work in the various industries that are slowly pushing us toward a future where humans are so much worse than robots are at driving, it’s not worth letting us even touch a steering wheel.

Automakers have made huge strides toward producing conventional cars that can drive themselves in select situations. A few of those will likely be on the market by the end of the decade or soon after. It’s not actually a big jump from what we have today to that point. Combine current features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, pedestrian recognition, and parking assist, and you’ve got a car that controls itself.

We’re not quite there yet. Legislation needs to be passed to govern these cars. Insurance companies must to figure out how their policies will work when you can’t assign the blame for a crash to a human driver. The hardware—the radars, sensors, and cameras that connect the car and the outside world—still needs improvement. In the interim stage, when cars control themselves but humans can still tag in, the stakes won’t be so high.

Shedding the Steering Wheel

The shift to cars without steering wheels and pedals will be revolutionary. It’s one thing to get a driver to let go of the wheel on long highway drives or a boring commute. It’s quite another to put him in a car that he can never drive, even if he wants to.

The change is inevitable, says Alberto Broggi, a professor of computing engineering at the University of Parma and an IEEE fellow. Cars that don’t need human drivers anymore will shed parts made for human control. “There’s nothing you can do about that.” The change will free auto design from the rules that have constrained it for a century. (Only Google has publicly addressed the idea, with a prototype it plans to start testing on public roads this fall.)



Broggi says the 2035 date predictions are realistic, but “you need to be very sure that the car is able to handle any scenario” before you give it full control. That will require a whole lot of testing and validation.

One question the IEEE survey raises but doesn’t answer: What happens to automakers when people don’t drive their cars anymore? Broggi says they can move away from working on the most powerful or best handling cars, and instead strive to deliver the most capable autonomous vehicle. Instead of advertising horsepower, they’ll yammer on about how many crazy situations their four-wheeled robot can handle safely. Marketing departments will trade in gimmicks like hauling around a space shuttle for ways of showing what a driverless car get itself through. We’ve got a few ideas for challenges: Viking attack. Airplane landing on the highway. Sinkhole in your lane. Show us a Ford or Hyundai that can handle those, and we’re in.

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Protecting kids left in hot cars through legislation

PHOENIX — Arizona has among the nation’s highest death rates for children left in hot cars, yet it is not among the states, 19 and counting, with laws specifically addressing the issue.

State statute does spell out that it’s illegal to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle if injury or death is likely to occur.

According to the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences, 26 children in Arizona died in vehicles of heat stroke between 1998 and 2013. Only the more populated states of Texas, Florida and California had more deaths in that period.

No Arizona children are among the at least 17 children who died of heatstroke vehicle deaths so far this year. Two Arizona children died in 2013:

• Three-month-old Jamison Gray died after his father left him in the car for nearly three hours outside the bar where he worked. While at the bar, authorities said, Daniel Gray smoked marijuana with co-workers. He was convicted of manslaughter and child abuse last month and sentenced to four years in prison.

• Markale Marques, 1, died after his father left him in the car for several hours while he was at work. Brokale Lytte Marques was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse. He is awaiting trial.

The national advocacy group has launched a White House petition drive asking the Obama administration to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to research and develop technology that would help parents remember when a child is in a rear car seat.

They also are asking the federal government to require technology be installed in all vehicles or child safety seats to prevent children from being accidentally left behind.

“You get a warning if you don’t buckle your seat belt, leave a car door open, your gas is low or you leave your headlights on,” said group President Janette Fennell in a news release. “If a child is left behind, you absolutely need a warning.”

Legal experts in Phoenix say current Arizona statutes covering child abuse and neglect are sufficient to handle situations where a child is left unattended in a vehicle.

But Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, Ariz., argues that a specific statute would bring more awareness to the issue. National advocacy groups also are pushing for more state and federal regulation of the issue.

Shanesha Taylor made news earlier this year after leaving her 6-month-old and 2-year-old sons in a car with the windows cracked and fan blowing for about 45 minutes while she was interviewing for a job in Scottsdale, Ariz. The children were uninjured. Taylor initially faced felony child-abuse charges but reached an agreement, announced Friday, that includes attending parenting classes and no criminal charges.

Kavanagh unsuccessfully this year sponsored a bill which would have made it a misdemeanor for a child under age 10 to be left in a vehicle if the conditions present a health or safety risk or if the keys are left in the vehicle.

House Republican leaders never gave the bill a hearing. A similar 2007 bill met the same fate.

Kavanagh, a former law-enforcement officer, said, “By making it part of statute, it sends a clear warning for those who have children in a motor vehicle that this is dangerous and if you do it you will face criminal charges even if your child is not injured.”

Some states have similar laws, with the age restrictions on the child ranging from under 6 to 16.

Criminal defense attorney Russ Richelsoph has handled clients facing charges for leaving children in cars. He said in cases where the child is uninjured, they are often charged with misdemeanor child endangerment.

“Do we need a statute that specifically addresses idiots leaving kids in hot cars? Probably not,” he said.

He said a new state law would change nothing.

Tennessee is the first in the nation to tackle the issue in a new way. A law that went into effect this month allows someone to break into a car to get a trapped child if they believe the child is in imminent danger. They must first call 911.

Rep. David Hawk, a Republican, and the bill’s sponsor, has said he hopes other states will use his law as model legislation.

Richelsoph said Arizona statute establishing a “necessity defense” allows for this. It essentially says an action could be justified if a reasonable person would conclude there is no alternative and the benefit outweighs the potential crime being committed.

“Does saving a child outweigh breaking a window? I’d say the answer is clearly yes,” Richelsoph said.

Richelsoph advised calling 911 before taking any action.

State laws

Nineteen states have laws addressing children being left in hot vehicles. Some examples:

California: It is a traffic violation to leave a child age 6 or younger in a car alone if conditions present a safety risk or if the vehicle is running.

Florida: It is a misdemeanor crime to leave a child younger than 6 unsupervised in a car for more than 15 minutes or for any time if the vehicle is running or the child appears to be in distress. It becomes a felony if the above action results in great harm to the child.

The law also allows a law-enforcement officer who sees an unattended child in distress in a vehicle to use whatever means necessary to get the child out of the vehicle.

Nevada: It is a misdemeanor crime to leave a child age 7 or younger alone in a vehicle if the conditions present a safety risk to the child or if the vehicle is left running.

Tennessee: It is a misdemeanor crime to leave a child younger than 7 unattended in a vehicle if the conditions present a health risk or the vehicle is running or the keys are in the car.

A new law this year allows someone to break into a car to rescue a child if they believe the child is in imminent danger.


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Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance: five cars that are not to be missed

Get your drool catchers ready. The Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance happens Sunday and there will be plenty of luxury, sport, classic and modified cars to feast your eyes upon all over the Pacific University campus. Just in case all those exquisite automobiles get a little overwhelming, the Leader spoke with Allen Stephens, a member of the Concours d’Elegance Steering Committee and son to one of the original founders of the event, to get the scoop on five cars you will not want to miss.

1. 1931 Packard 840

Stephens said that this car led the 1981 Ticker Tape Parade for the then just-released American hostages who had been held in Iran. He called it “a symbol of American craftsmanship and elegance.”

2. 1953 Nash-Healy Le Mans Coupe

One of only 62 produced in 1953, this Coupe features American running gear, a British chassis and a body hand built by Italian auto firm Pininfarina.

3. 1969 AC 428 Coupe

This car’s owner, Jim Feldman from Cedar Hills, has entered a car in every Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance event since it was founded in 1973. With that track record, his cars have to be good.

4. 1966 Shelby Mustang GT 350

Considered by some as the epitome of American sports cars, the indubitably classic Ford Mustang is being celebrated at this year’s Concours for its half century of production.

5. 1933 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS

If you are going to see one car at Concours, make it this one. Not only is it enormously rare and opulent, it has an interesting story. The car’s owner, David Cohen, first saw it as a young teenager on the streets of South Africa, Stephens said. After many years, Cohen was able to buy the car and spend the next few years restoring it to its original condition. The car went on to win the best in show award at the Concorso d’Eleganza at Lake Como in Italy and became the runner up in perhaps the most prestigious Concours event in the world, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Dillon Pilorget

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